How Evergreen Public Schools is Supporting English Language Learners

by Dr. Catherine Carrison, Ph.D., Evergreen Public Schools

How do you honor all languages and cultures?

Many of our schools hold school-wide multicultural events showcasing song and dance from our students’ cultures. This includes a variety of events organized by teachers and students tied to the Dual Language Program such as our “Feria de libros bilingües” (bilingual book fair), Ballet Folkloríco dancers, and other celebrations showcasing the Latino culture

How are you meeting the needs of EL students (either school and/or district-level)?

Evergreen Public Schools is working hard to ensure our ELs have the greatest chances for academic success. The mission of our English Language Learner Department is to empower English language learners toward academic & social success.

To this end, EPS has implemented a variety of programs, approaches, and activities to support student learning and to foster family engagement with the school district. Among its instructional support models for ELL students, Evergreen employs a robust K-12 Spanish Dual Language Program (currently implemented through 7th grade), an Elementary and Middle School Newcomers’ Program, a Supportive Mainstream elementary push-in model, and Content-based and Sheltered Instructional models at the secondary level. A few of these will be discussed further later in this response.

We believe that family engagement is critical to the academic and social success of our students and we are constantly seeking ways to integrate and empower our parents. Evergreen Public Schools has had an active Parents as Natural Leaders Program for almost a decade. This program empowers our ELL parents as leaders within their neighborhood school community. Parents meet monthly for training about district practices and ways they can support students, teachers, and other ELL parents in their children’s school. Many of these parents volunteer regularly in their school doing everything from greeting parents in the office, to reading with students in native language in the classrooms.

EPS also employs two Family Liaisons to support our Spanish and Russian/Ukrainian speaking parents. The Liaisons are integral in parent outreach and support. Each of the Liaisons collaborates with school administrators and other district teams to host a variety of parent groups. These groups span K-12, are hosted during the school day out in school buildings, and focused on helping parents understand how our schools function and how they can best support their children. In addition, the Liaisons offer parenting classes for interested ELL parents. One such class is called “3D-ID Raising a Generation without Borders.” This program has been developed by one of our former ELL Paraeducators who is now a FCRC Coordinator. The focus of this 10-week course for our Latino families is to increase their awareness of their own cultural funds of knowledge and empower them to grow emotionally strong & healthy families. Finally, the district hosts three community tours of our schools each year. Two of these tours are specifically for our Russian and Spanish speaking families and community members. These tours enable our ELL families to visit our schools, meet the Superintendent, and learn more about the EPS vision for their children’s academic and social success.

The linked presentation was given in June 2018 as a part of the OSPI Department of Migrant and Bilingual Education webinar series for ELL Departments across the state. It outlines, in greater detail, the above mentioned activities as well as other EPS family outreach initiatives.

Evergreen Public Schools is also fortunate to have received the Asian American Pacific Islander ELL Grant in partnership with OSPI and 2 other districts in the state. The focus of this 5 year grant is three-fold: to improve academic performance of our AAPI students, improved graduation rates of AAPI students, and increased family engagement. With grant funds received, the EPS ELL Department has developed a Pacific Islander Student Specialist position. Our PI Specialist focuses her work with our most at-risk Pacific Islander ELL students at the secondary level, regularly meeting with them individually as well as tutoring them and working with school intervention teams to support students. As a part of her efforts, she coordinates and hosts a variety of events for PI ELL parents such Skyward, parenting and health and nutrition classes. For example, this fall she hosted a field trip for students and parents to our local community college and WSUV in an effort to empower students to see themselves pursuing higher education.

Finally, our Newcomer Programs at elementary and middle school are instrumental in providing a solid educational introduction to school in the US. These classrooms are safe and caring environments with highly skilled ELL teachers designed to equip students with intensive English Language Development support and an understanding of general classroom routines that will enable them to experience success in our mainstream classrooms upon their exit from the NC Program. Students usually remain in these classrooms for a year or less before returning to their neighborhood school.

The most comprehensive district-wide way we are addressing the unique instructional needs of our ELL students is by equipping our teachers with sound instructional practices. The ELL Department Sheltered Instruction Professional Development Specialist and the Elementary SI Specialist are invaluable to this work. Since 2012 the ELL department in EPS has provided focused professional development for K-12 classroom teachers, principals and instructional coaches to learn about best practices to shelter instruction. As a part of this concerted effort Sheltered Instruction Leads have been identified and developed at school sites. SI Leads are teachers in the classroom that regularly return for refresher PD and support their colleagues back in their schools by leading from the classroom. As of this year, approximately 60% of teachers K-12 have had this professional development with Sheltered Instruction Leads in more than 20 of our 32+ schools. Furthermore, during the 2018–19 school year, four elementary schools are participating in a Sheltered Instruction Residency in which our elementary SI Specialist supports administrators and instructional coaches in building capacity through job embedded SI PD. These residencies include teacher planning support and lesson study to help teachers gain a lens on Sheltered Instruction as part of their core pedagogy. Additionally, our SI PD Specialist designs quality regular professional development for our 100+ K-12 ELL paraeducators and our 18 ELL teachers. Her focused work with ELL staff includes a special 5 week training for new ELL paras that is conducted in conjunction with our New ELL Para Mentor. We believe that continuing to provide initial quality professional development as well as building capacity in each school to continue to support educators will ensure that our ELs can access the content and excel in academic language development.

How do you communicate dual language as a priority and positive option for all students?

Evergreen is proud to offer a Spanish Two-Way Dual Language program to our Spanish speaking ELL students. The Program, which was first implemented in 2011, is a 90/10 model which means that 90% of the instruction in Kindergarten is in Spanish. This language balances shifts each year, reaching about 50/50 by the 5th grade. Our program is Two-way which means that ½ of the class is native Spanish speaking and ½ is not Spanish speaking. The program is currently in place through K-5 at two separate elementary schools and through 7th grade at our first middle school. Implementation will begin in the 2019–20 school year at our second middle school and planning has already begun with the two high schools which will receive students in each of these Dual Immersion Program strands.

Currently, about 215 of our 452 Dual Immersion students K-7 are in-program ELs, with the fewest number of students still in the ELL Program at the middle school level. Our Kindergarten classes begin with at least half of the students qualifying as in-program ELL students. Students in grades K-2 receive literacy instruction in Spanish only until 3rd grade at which time they have formal literacy instruction in both languages. Math is taught K-5 in Spanish only and science and social studies are taught in both languages. Middle School Dual Immersion students are enrolled in math in Spanish as well as a Spanish Language Arts class. It is our hope, that with continued teacher recruitment, we will be able to offer additional content area courses in Spanish as well.

District support for the Dual Language Program involves oversight by an ELL Program Coordinator as well as support by our Dual Language Education Specialist. The DLE Specialist is a new position this year and is instrumental in supporting our 20 DLE teachers with mentoring and professional development. Both Coordinator and Specialist collaborate with the district Curriculum and Instruction Department to ensure the unique curricular instructional needs of the program are considered when purchasing district curricula and instructional resources. Additionally, the team hosts the district parent and community Dual Immersion Information meetings as well as orientation meetings for families enrolling in the program and overseeing the enrollment process.

Currently, one of the biggest challenges for Dual Immersion Programs around the state is the pool for qualified bilingual teachers. In EPS the ELL Department has partnered with our Human Resources Department on efforts to recruit quality Spanish Dual Language teachers and supporting them in the certification process. In addition, the district is currently in partnership with Washington State University Vancouver, on a bilingual ELL para to teacher program grant called ELL IMPACT. This grant affords qualifying ELL paraeducators the opportunity to pursue their teaching certification while continuing to work in their current role. Eleven bilingual paras are currently in their student teaching phase and several more will begin the second and final cohort this summer. EPS has also partnered with City University on alt routes for our ELL paras as well as ESD U through our local ESD 112.

How is EPS engaging students as leaders around cultural competency?

In addition to the many wonderful opportunities to engage in leadership activities our students have at their neighborhood schools, the Evergreen Public Schools’ ELL Department sponsors interested High School Latino & Russian Speaking ELL students to attend the local area annual Latino and Russian Youth Leadership conferences. For the last 8 years, at least one of our participating Russian speaking ELs has received a scholarship for an excellent leadership essay. Our department has also collaborated with middle schools to send Spanish speaking ELs to La Chispa leadership conference. In addition, several of our Dual Immersion students have participated in student panels as a part of our DLE school tours for visiting districts from Washington State and beyond. Each of these events affords students to see themselves as leaders and draw upon and share their cultural expertise.